Fiedler’s Contingency Theory

I generally like the premise of Fiedler’s contingency theory.  His theory is strongly associated with the leader and situation elements of leadership, and is marginally associated with the follower element.  Northouse (2013) describes this theory by stating, “Contingency theory is a leader-match theory which… tries to match leaders to appropriate situations” (Northouse, 2013, p. 2505).  Contingency theory can be distinguished from other leader-match theories in that it assumes that leaders cannot change their behavior/style…” (PSU World Campus, 2013).  The theory is dependent on four factors: the leader’s position on the least preferred coworker (LPC) scale, leader-member relations, task structure, and position power.  These factors are analyzed via a diagram created by Fiedler (Weber, 2000) which determines whether a leader is a good fit for a particular leadership situation.  My concern with this theory is the same as the one described by Northouse, the LPC evaluation “does not seem valid on the surface” (Northouse, 2013).      

I took the sample LPC evaluation found in the Northouse (2013) textbook.  I found that I had a very low score (36) which makes me task motivated.  I’d agree in most cases, but I also believe that I understand the importance of creating and maintaining relationships in leadership so I was surprised that I scored so low.  I did some additional reading and uncovered some interesting facts regarding Fiedler’s theory. 

According to research conducted by Rice and Seaman (1981) there is not a standard version of the LPC scale.  This is strange because various versions of the measurement scale may create varied results for individuals who take the test, and it may lead to having mismatched leaders and job situations.  Another glitch uncovered by Rice and Seaman was that respondents to the LPC scale often have conflicting scores between the task and relationship questions asked on the LPC scale.  To be clearer, about 39% of respondents score low on the task related questions (suggesting task oriented) and high on the relationship related questions (suggesting relationship oriented), or vice-versa (Rice & Seaman, 1981).  To me, it seems that for the results of the LPC scale to give a valid prediction of relationship or task orientation the respondent’s score should be the same (both high, or both low) on task and relationship related questions.

Fiedler’s contingency theory is great in that it considers all three factors of leadership: leader, follower, and situation.  Northouse (2013) states that another strength of contingency theory is that, “it is supported by a great deal of empirical research” (Northouse, 2013, p. 2583).  As I said at the beginning of this blog I generally like the idea of the contingency theory.  My concern; however, is that the LPC scale may not always provide accurate results.  I feel that my LPC scale result was skewed, and Rice and Seaman found evidence that the LPC scale may provide questionable results for others as well. 

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and Practice (Kindle Edition). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

PSU World Campus. (2013). L.06: Contingency and Path Theories. Retrieved from ANGEL Course Management System: https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/fa13/psych485/001/content/06_lesson/printlesson.html

Rice, R. W., & Seaman, F. J. (1981). Internal Analysis of the Least Preferred Coworker Scale. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 109-120.

Weber, W. (2000, August 2). Leadership. Retrieved from California State University Pomona: http://www.csupomona.edu/~wcweber/301/301slide/ch13301/sld012.htm

 

 

1 comment

  1. You have made some great points regading the inconsistencies of the LPC tests. At soem point in the future maybe someone will standardize the tests and apply it to the theory across the board.

    Like you, I appreciate the fact that the Contingency Theory takes into account the situation, the follower, and the leader. This seems to be a more applicable theory for leaders to incorporate.

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